A plastic recovery facility in Bangalore helps waste workers sort plastics

Microentrepreneurs up and running at new plastic recovery facilities in India

In the second half of 2022, Saahas Zero Waste onboarded three microentrepreneurs to their “Let’s Transform” programme, with support from IKEA Social Entrepreneurship.

The programme is designed to transition waste workers to formal employment, providing infrastructure, project management and financial support to microentrepreneurs. The three selected microentrepreneurs are experienced waste sector workers who share the aim to improve conditions, efficiency and ultimately, the incomes and livelihoods of workers in their communities.

Empowering women in Udupi

Chanda Anand Anchan is a waste sector worker from Udupi in Karnataka, a state in India’s southwest. Fifteen years ago, Anand Anchan started going from household to household offering collection of unsegregated waste. Over time, she was recognised by the government and allotted specific wards for exclusive collection and access to a collection centre to segregate waste. Working with a self-help group – a formal structure for women to come together, work on common projects and share revenue – the women were able to increase efficiencies, purchase a three-wheel vehicle for collections, and operate a 3,000 sq ft facility. 

While originally Anand Anchan’s primary income came from waste removal, as she saw the potential value in segregated waste and recyclable materials grow, she shifted her focus to sorting. 

"In India, sorting is the missing link between waste collection and recycling. For an effective plastic circular economy, it is integral for plastic waste to be sorted into as many individual fractions* as possible."

Atul Krishna Kumar, Sustainability Business Partner, IKEA India.

Anand Anchan has now been supported to set up operations at a 6,000 sq ft plastic recovery facility by Saahas Zero Waste, where her group is growing. Before working at the plastic recovery facility, the women of the Shri Siddhi Nagara Sthree Shakthi self-help group would sit on the floor and manually sort around 40-50kg of waste per day. Today, the nine waste workers (with plans to grow to 20) are working with a conveyer belt system and safety equipment, allowing each woman to sort 100kg of waste per day and increase her income. 
Chanda Anand Anchan at the opening of the plastic recovery facility in Udupi
Chanda Anand Anchan at the opening of the plastic recovery facility in Udupi
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A second life for scrap 

Ranjith Singh spent 14 years in the manufacturing sector working in materials management before he made the shift to waste. Singh regularly saw production waste scrapped, even though the material was good quality. He set up a small mapping project to determine how plastics could be used in the circular economy, and started his business, Specro, to explore opportunities in the sector.  

In October, Singh moved his operations to a Saahas Zero Waste plastic recovery facility in Chennai, allowing him to focus on expansion. He has successfully recruited ten new workers but faces new challenges formalising business operations and working conditions. With improved sorting efficiency, and workers once sorting 60-70kg per day now sorting 180kg per day, Singh has a cash flow problem. Singh needs to pay higher ‘formal’ rates up front for incoming waste but doesn't receive revenue until sorted waste is sold. He has also found he now competes with informal workers who sell sorted waste at a lower price.

"One of the issues we want to test with this programme is where funding gaps constrain the transformation to formalised waste work. Getting funding from regular commercial banks for investments and working capital is tough for microentrepreneurs in waste management, but it’s critical to show they’re credit worthy as it’s only with scale that a formal, transparent approach in the sector can shift the status quo."

Jeroen Wopereis, Finance and Investment leader, IKEA Social Entrepreneurship

Ranjith Singh prepares bales of sorted waste for recycling
Ranjith Singh prepares bales of sorted waste for recycling 
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Formalising waste work

In 2014, Sharan Subaiah started his career in the car industry. Working in plastics procurement he was exposed to environmental issues, and saw a need for more formal recycling solutions. Subaiah started his own business, Green Earth Industries, which operated informally with limited compliance. In 2022, with Saahas Zero Waste, he moved his operations from Mysore to Bangalore, the state capital, establishing a formal business in a new plastic recovery facility. The conveyer, bailing and crushing machinery has helped increase capacity from 500kg to two tonnes per day. 

Subaiah has hired new workers and signed monthly vendor agreements that will help him meet his growth target to source and sort 150 tonnes per month, but his long-term aim is to learn how to retain value-added processes within the business and sell directly to recyclers – reducing the need for aggregators (an additional step in the supply chain) and increasing incomes.  


"The employees at Subaiah’s plastic recovery facility were informal waste workers from Bihar who used to collect and segregate waste manually in unhygienic conditions, without safety gear. Now, they're part of a formal employment setup which ensures minimum wages, employee provident funds and safety gears including PPEs and gloves ... This programme is a step in the right direction to ensure effective management of plastic waste, while at the same time uplifting vulnerable informal waste worker communities."

Atul Krishna Kumar, Sustainability Business Partner, IKEA India 

 A plastic recovery facility in Bangalore helps waste workers sort plastics
A plastic recovery facility in Bangalore helps waste workers sort plastics.
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Saahas Zero Waste circular impact report 2022

The World Inequality Report data from 2021 shows the bottom 50% of India’s population received just 13% of the national income, demonstrating the continued need for opportunities and improved livelihoods at the ‘base of the pyramid’. Saahas Zero Waste recently released their circular impact report for 2022 which cites economic impact for 1,800+ people from the base of the pyramid and, in total, 32,000 metric tonnes of waste managed across all their initiatives.  

One hundred waste workers have been impacted through the three microentrepreneurs supported by IKEA Social Entrepreneurship. Reflection on how, and to what degree, is ongoing. The programme, now entering its second year, is helping us learn how the waste sector works in practice as we seek to identify sustainable, impactful solutions. A recent field trip to Bangalore demonstrated the need for waste workers’ access to capital, customers, resources and work security, as well as a dependency on demand from corporates for ethically sourced recycled materials. 

 "With all three microentrepreneurs now onboarded and day-to-day operations formalised, it was good opportunity to visit and better understand the systemic challenges in the waste sector.  While centralised systems can be more efficient, decentralised systems can create space for entrepreneurship and adapt to local needs and regulations. Finding solutions that are self-sustaining and socially inclusive isn’t easy, but together, social entrepreneurs and corporates could develop combinations that improve livelihoods and brings us closer to a circular economy.”

Åsa Skogström Feldt, Managing Director, IKEA Social Entrepreneurship  

Conveyer belts help increase capacity bringing waste workers higher incomes
Conveyer belts help increase capacity bringing waste workers higher incomes.
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Throughout the Let’s Transform programme, Saahas Zero Waste is working alongside the microentrepreneurs to finalise their business plans, set up the infrastructure for plastic recovery facilities, identify sources of waste for sorting, delivering a technical solution for tracking and tracing and facilitating government authorisation and approvals for PRF centres. How these structures and process impacts other informal workers in the sector will be measured throughout the coming year and reported on at the programme conclusion.  

Read the full mid-programme review from Saahas Zero Waste here.

* Fractions: to recycle waste, it needs to be segregated into fractions. A material recovery facility segregates all dry waste into multiple fractions, one of which is plastic waste. At a plastic recovery facility, waste is further sorted into multiple fractions (eg. by colour, structure, composition). The more refined the fractions, the more valuable the waste.